All of us who appreciate the guns of the Old
West - from Colt-style single-action revolvers; to Smith &
Wesson-style Schofield revolvers, as well as other top-break
designs; to old-style shotguns; to lever-action, slide-action
and single-shot rifles, to name but a few - owe a debt of
gratitude to the game of Cowboy
Action Shooting. The popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS)
has encouraged manufacturers worldwide to offer a great variety
of reproductions of some of the finest weapons ever made. I
don't shoot CAS myself, but those great old weapons are the ones
that truly stir my soul, as they stir the souls of many who
nevertheless choose not to participate in the CAS game. I am
grateful to the CAS folks for helping to create a viable market
for these weapons, which are "obsolete" to some, yet
in my opinion remain unsurpassed in many ways to this day.
As I stated above, I am not a CAS shooter. As
should be obvious, I have nothing against the game; I just don't
have the time and money to devote to another hobby. Collecting
firearms, stringed musical instruments, and vintage pocket
watches keeps me broke most of the time, and playing music (as
well as my current shooting activities) tends to take up any
leisure time I might have. Also, the powder-puff loads that the
CAS game gravitates toward tends to make the game less realistic
to me, but that's just one man's view; I am thankful
that so many do participate in CAS, as it allows me to feed the
gun-collecting beast within me.
Not only has the advent of CAS been
instrumental in seeing so many original designs brought back,
but CAS has also played a large part in creating a market for
accessories such as authentically-styled gun leather and
clothing, which are required to participate in some categories
of CAS. CAS is a game in which a well-heeled shooter can spend
any amount of money for a full rig, including
everything from weapons, leather, and clothing (even
authentically-styled underwear!), and any number of accoutrements.
I know many CAS shooters who are fanatical about the
authenticity of their rigs, spend large amounts of money on
them, and have the time of their lives sharing their passion with
other like-minded shooters.
CAS is also a game which welcomes the novice
shooter and those whose budgets are more limited, and there are
a good number of weapons available to suit those who are just
getting started in CAS, or whose budgets won't allow them to go
"all-in" on a CAS rig. These weapons generally exhibit
a level of quality comparable to the more expensive models in a
given manufacturer's catalog, but with a less-refined finish.
Rather than the lustrous blue and beautiful case-hardening (or
bright nickel) finishes found on the "nicer" models,
these "bargain" models typically have more subdued
matte finishes, but are in most ways the equals of their
typically-more-expensive brethren. Many makers offer weapons,
especially Colt-style revolvers, of this type, and one of these
is the subject of this article: the Uberti 1873 Cattleman
When my Uberti was made in 2004, the "Gunfighter" moniker
indicated a matte-blue revolver, and the matte-finish option is
currently offered by Uberti as the "Chisholm"
(with steel grip frame) and the "Hombre" (with
brass grip frame). The Chisholm model is more expensive than the
Hombre, and is in fact a bit more expensive than the standard
Cattleman with blued and case-hardened finish in the current
catalog. My Gunfighter bears the Stoeger,
Accokeek, MD importer mark. Uberti is a well-known Italian
maker, and is now owned by Beretta.
I will admit that I've never found these
matte-finish sixguns particularly attractive, as they just don't
look "right" to me. I probably
would not have been tempted to buy this one had it not been for
two things: first, it wore a set of beautiful American elk stag
grips by one of my favorite makers, Sack Peterson; and secondly,
it was made available to me by Mr. Peterson himself, who had used this sixgun
as a "test mule" for developing a pattern for the
Uberti sixguns, and he sold me this sixgun, complete with the
grips, for little more than the grips alone would have cost me.
I can't resist a bargain on a sixgun, especially if it comes
with such lovely grips, so I bought the gun, admired the beauty
and fit of the grips, shot it enough to determine that it would
shoot, then lost interest and put it in the safe.
After a while, I started thinking about what
I could do with that Uberti, and I decided that it might be a
fun project to "antique" it myself. The idea of antiquing
a modern "clone" sixgun is nothing new; folks have
been doing it for years, and several makers are now offering the
finish as an option on their sixguns (Uberti catalogs it as the
"Old West" model, and it is a nice-looking antique
finish). I also own a limited-edition 45 Colt USFA
Rodeo Sheriff's Model which features a prototype of what
USFA now calls their "Antique Patina" finish. This
finish is offered on their "Gunslinger"
model; marked on the box of my Rodeo Sheriff as a
"custom" finish, my Sheriff's Model may be the only
one of those Rodeo revolvers so finished, and it is beautifully
done. So, inspired by that factory-custom Rodeo, I decided to go
ahead with my "Antique Uberti" project, reasoning that
(to quote my friend Hamilton
Bowen) "The worst I can do is ruin it".
I did some research on the methods folks
were using to antique their finishes, and they mostly involved
disassembling the gun and using some chemical or mechanical
method to remove the finish, then reassembling the gun basically
unfinished. I was less than impressed by the look of most of
these projects, as the end result appeared pretty much to simply
be an unfinished gun, not one whose finish had been worn away by
decades of use. The methods used for these finish projects also
sounded like way more trouble that they were worth; I am a
pretty lazy guy by nature, and it seemed to me that a more
acceptable result could be obtained without so darn much work.
The method upon which I settled wasn't nearly as involved or as
scientific as some, but I was pleased with the result. I did not disassemble the sixgun, as I reasoned that "real" aging processes occur when the sixgun is in one piece; I did, however, remove the grip panels, mostly because I didn't want to mess up the pretty elk
I sat down with the sixgun, a couple of gray Scotch-Brite pads, a good cigar, and popped
Escape" into the DVD player. I then commenced to rub the sixgun with the Scotch-Brite pads, mostly in long strokes and cupping the
pads in the palm of my hand so as to spread the wear in a natural pattern. I tried to concentrate my rubbing over areas that would naturally see more wear, such as the muzzle end of the barrel,
the end of the ejector rod housing and the ejector rod button, the leading edge of the cylinder, the backstrap, the large frame flats, the top of the frame, etc. Rubbing over large areas left bluing in recessed areas, adding to the realistic effect. I did remove the cylinder
long enough to apply a bit of rubbing inside the cylinder frame, to make sure my wear pattern was even over the cylinder, and to evenly wear the base pin head.
I proceeded in a leisurely fashion, taking breaks to observe my
progress (and to take puffs on that nice Dominican cigar), but the process went
surprisingly quickly. By the time the movie ended, I was done. Total time: about three hours.
As a finishing touch, I applied some torque to the screws using improperly-sized screwdrivers so as to
intentionally "bugger" the screw heads a bit. I figured most 19th-century sixgunners didn't have
Brownells screwdriver sets, so some screw-buggery was to be
expected. It was a subtle bit of authenticity that also proved
to be satisfying on a psychological level, as I've always been
compulsive about not messing up screw heads with improper tools,
and it was nice to be able to "let go" for a change.
As I write this, it has been about six months
since I completed the "Antique Uberti" project. To say
I was pleased with the results would be an understatement; due
in large part to the antiquing project, this Uberti has become
one of my favorite sixguns. I have handled it a lot, and I have
shot it a lot. During the intervening months, the sixgun has
continued to improve in appearance, with some of the larger
scratches (where I initially was a bit too energetic with my
rubbing) evening out, and a few dark spots developing in just
the right places through honest use. The action has smoothed to
a fare-the-well, and a replacement
Heinie bolt spring from Brownells was a simple and
inexpensive improvement to the sixgun's trigger pull and
When my brother Jeff had a look at my Uberti a couple of
weeks ago, he did offer one bit of what turned out to be very
constructive criticism: he really liked the look of the sixgun,
and thought I'd done a great job of replicating the mystique of
the old Colt sixguns, but he offered the opinion that the grips
just didn't look right. Those bright, new elk stags just didn't
look at home on that antique finish, and he suggested that they
would look great stained with tea or coffee. I had been loath to
do anything to those grips, as I thought they were beautiful as
they were and I had never tried dyeing a set of grips before;
but as I considered the possibilities and remembered that Jeff
had never steered me wrong over the course of my life, I
decided to give it a try.
I had my new bride brew me up a strong batch of tea (six
standard-size tea bags in about eight ounces of water, just enough to
completely cover the grips in a margarine container) and I began
to soak the grips while periodically checking on their progress.
After about two days I had the shade I wanted, so I removed the
grips from the tea and let them dry on a sunny window sill for
three full days. After hand-rubbing them with a soft
cloth, they were ready to reinstall on my Uberti. I am extremely
pleased with the result; the shade is just what I wanted, and
the hue is very close to Sambar stag. Jeff was right again, and
this Uberti is a sixgun I have a tough time putting down.
Have a look at Uberti's extensive line of
Old-West style guns at www.uberti.com.
For some of the finest American elk stag
grips available at reasonable prices, visit www.sackpeterson.com.